Monday, April 15, 2024

Movie Review: “Marshland”

A superlative thinking-person’s thriller in the tradition of Dick Wolf as much as David Fincher, the award-winning Spanish import “Marshland” (opening Friday in South Florida) discovers the universal through the specific and vice versa. Set in 1980 amid the marshy, weather-beaten outskirts of Andalusia, it follows a pair of homicide detectives during a mirthless street fair, as they track a serial killer of teenage girls. It’s a strange town, one that is enduring, like much of Spain, a volatile sputter toward democracy in the wake of Franco.

The detectives, Juan and Pedro (Javier Gutierrez and Raul Arevalo), receive a tip from a riverboat psychic, and another potential lead arrives in the middle of the night, in the form of an unhinged man with a shotgun. There are stolen drugs, more victims, potentially incriminating literature, a severed foot, a shadowy hunting lodge, a mysterious man with a hat, and a tattered celluloid negative of foggy pornography. As our intrepid heroes inch closer to the truth, their lives become increasingly at risk, especially the elder cop, Juan, whose investigation is regularly interrupted by symbolic reminders of his mortality.

Leavened by coarse, effective humor and a score that is artful and unobtrusive, “Marshland” grips you from its opening seconds and never lets up. It resembles an extended “Law & Order: SVU” episode in plot mechanics only; co-writer and director Alberto Rodriguez’s style imbues the standard policier boilerplate with mythic, cosmic and political undertones. Central to the film’s distinction are its natural settings among the rivers and rice fields and swamps of Seville. Rodriguez caps most exterior scenes by offering breathtaking, IMAX-ready aerial vistas of the region’s topography. These images suggest a god’s point of view, reducing the seething human drama to that of quibbling insects scurrying across the plats and contours of an ant farm.

Rodriguez also deserves credit for revivifying the staid tradition of the two-cops-search-for-the-killer formula. The detectives’ differences in age and outlook are to be expected, but Rodriguez adds culturally precise nuance by making each one an avatar for Spain’s fractured ideologies. Juan is a Franco loyalist, whose uncommonly brutal interrogations of suspects conjure the strong-armed lawlessness of the former regime. Pedro prefers wiles and covert deal-making over brawn, and is unafraid to expose old-guard corruption when he sees it.

The most devastating photograph in “Marshland” depicts neither severed body parts nor sexually abused teens but Juan’s own past. And the movie’s final image poetically evokes a Spain that, until it deals with its own murderous demons, will be divided for some time to come.

“Marshland” opens Friday at Movies of Delray, Movies of Lake Worth, Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale, AMC Aventura, the Tower Theater in Miami, O Cinema in Miami Shores and the Cosford Cinema in Coral Gables. For more information, visit marshlandthemovie.com.

John Thomason
John Thomason
As the A&E editor of bocamag.com, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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